The historic Meadville Market House is coming to a location near you, and it’s bringing affordable locally grown produce and, if things go well, much more.
The Mobile Market House, a decommissioned Crawford Area Transportation Authority minibus retrofitted with coolers and solar panels to power them, is back and will be making its first stops of the season Tuesday at St. Mary of Grace Catholic Church, 1093 Water St., from noon to 1:30 p.m. and at E-Street Eatery, 748 N. Main St., from 2 to 3 p.m.
The Mobile Market House will set up at 12 locations weekly and will operate Wednesday through Saturday every week through September. Tuesday stops will be available every other week.
The goal, according to Mobile Market team leader Autumn Vogel, is to make the program “bigger and better than ever before.”
“It’s exciting that people are starting to recognize and remember the market,” Vogel said, “and to count on it coming to their neighborhoods.”
The mobile market started with locations around the county in 2017 as an outgrowth of Allegheny College’s Community Wellness Initiative, which also helped to launch the Community Garden at the Meadville Area Recreation Complex. Last year, the Market House took over the program, added the minibus and used a $5,000 grant from the city of Meadville to bring the market to a variety of locations in the city.
This year, the program is operating without any assistance from the city. Two of the market locations are just outside city limits — Acutec and Forest Green Estates — while the others are at familiar locations within the city such as Diamond Park, Second District Elementary, Allegheny College and Lincoln Avenue Grocer.
The program’s goals this year include adding meat and dairy options in addition to the fruits, vegetables, dry goods, honey and syrup already offered, according to Vogel. The mobile market is also in the process of obtaining a digital reader for electronic benefits transfer cards to make purchasing produce and other items easier for those who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In the meantime, Vogel said, manual receipts are still available.
All along, the combination of mobility and $5 vouchers from nonprofit organizations — Active Aging Inc. the first year, Meadville Medical Center last year and this year — have played an important role in the success of the program. Also contributing to the $3,200 in vouchers available this year are Acutec, Palmiero Toyota and Women’s Services Inc.
The point, according to Vogel, is to make fresh local food more accessible to residents. Already, eight Crawford County farms are participating this year with the possibility of more being added.
“It’s meeting a need people have expressed,” Vogel said, referring to Community Wellness Initiative surveys in which residents said that fresh local foods like those carried by the market bus were hard to find and hard to get to.
Having expressed the need, residents used the mobile market to obtain produce worth nearly $8,000 last year, according to Devon Stout, who chairs the Market Authority, which oversees both the Market house and its mobile offspring. In addition, visitors to the mobile market purchased nearly $1,000 worth of dry goods and spent almost $100 on honey.
The program’s success was touted at the most recent City Council meeting by Mayor LeRoy Stearns, who had argued in favor of the city’s $5,000 grant last year. In its current form, with no such grant from the city, the program even seems to have won over Councilman John Battaglia. Battaglia voted against the city’s support of the program last year, arguing that it was inappropriate for city to throw its support behind a program that could be competing with tax-paying city businesses.
“I think this is really going to reach people that don’t have the ability to get to fresh fruit and vegetables,” Stearns said.
“A few people stopped me, which they hardly ever do,” Battaglia said, “and said they appreciated that we had done something to make this possible.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.